As the Australian Open 2018 gets underway, all eyes will be on the usual culprits of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, albeit for different reasons.
Apart from the Big 3, there will be a focus on a group of NextGen players who primarily came into the spotlight in 2017. This group has been knocking on the doors for some time and last year took advantage of the many players carrying and later withdrawing with injuries.
The Australian Open will be the first big indicator of how ready they are to stay on the big stage and will be a precursor to how 2018 may fare for them. They will be helped by the fact that several top players will be returning from lengthy injury breaks who may not be at their best.
We will take a look at a few of the NextGen players who are expected to make their mark in 2018.
#1 Nick Kyrgios
Nick Kyrgios has been on the tour since 2012 so it is easy to forget that he is only 22 years old and very much a part of the NextGen. The mercurial Aussie has all the tools and the talent to be a top ten player rather than his current ATP ranking of 17 and highest ranking of 13.
His performance has been overshadowed by his frequent withdrawals as well as his controversial behavior. In 2017, he withdrew from Indian Wells due to illness and from Queen's Club, Wimbledon, and Washington due to injuries. At the Shanghai Masters, he abruptly retired during his first round match.
He was accused of tanking his 4th round match at the 2015 Wimbledon which he denied. However, in 2017 he admitted that he had tanked about 8 matches as he would rather do something else than play tennis. He has openly questioned his own dedication to tennis.
Kyrgios is the second player after Lleyton Hewitt to register a victory against Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in their very first meeting. His best showings at the Grand Slams are quarter-final appearances at the 2014 Wimbledon and the 2015 Australian Open.
Last year, he reached his first Masters 1000 final, defeated both Djokovic & Nadal, and had an epic semi-final match against Federer at Miami. Kyrgios has won the 2018 Brisbane International. The only thing stopping the enigmatic Kyrgios from reaching greater heights is himself. He will need to decide if tennis is a passion or job for him.
#2 Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev had his best year in 2017, winning 5 titles and reaching a career-high ranking of World No. 3 before finishing the year at No. 4. He has been singled out by many players and commentators, as one of the apparent heirs to the Big 4 and a future World No. 1.
The 20-year-old won his first two Masters 1000 titles last year at the Italian Open, by defeating Djokovic, and at the Canadian Open, by defeating Federer. He is the youngest player since Djokovic in 2007 to win an ATP 1000 title and the first player born in the 1990s to do so.
The German's best Grand Slam showing was the 4th Round at last year's Wimbledon. He will be looking to improve on that in 2018. Zverev is primarily a baseline player. However, he is good at the net as well. He is a strong server and is known for his tenacity on the court.
He will be out to prove that 2017 was not a fluke.
#3 Grigor Dimitrov
Grigor Dimitrov also had his career-best year in 2017. The current World No. 3 won four titles last year including his first Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati and the ATP Finals. He also reached the finals of the Stockholm Open.
He has reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2014 and the 2017 Australian Open along with a quarter-final showing at the 2014 Australian Open. He stretched Nadal to five sets at the Australian Open last year and is slated to meet Nadal again in the semi-finals this year.
As the defending champion at the Brisbane International 2017-18, he lost in the semi-finals to eventual champion, Kyrgios.
Dimitrov has an all-court game and is comfortable at the net as well as the baseline. The most successful Bulgarian male tennis player is nicknamed as "Baby Fed" for his similar style of play to Roger Federer. He has been called as one most talented up-and-coming players for the last few of years and at now at the age of 26 will be looking to authenticate that.
#4 Dominic Thiem
Austrian Dominic Thiem is the current World No. 5. He has won eight ATP titles in his career and reached his first Masters 1000 final in 2017. He has beaten each member of the Big 4 at least once. He beat Nadal on clay at the quarter-finals of the 2017 Rome Masters after losing to Nadal in the finals of the 2017 Barcelona and Madrid Opens.
His best showing at the Grand Slams are semi-final losses at the French Open in 2016 and 2017 where he lost to the eventual champions, Djokovic and Nadal respectively. He knocked out defending champion Djokovic in 2017.
He is primarily a baseline player and his best surface is clay. Thiem is comfortable on hard courts as well. He will be looking to improve on his 4th Round appearance at the Australian Open last year.
#5 Pablo Carreno Busta
Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta improved to World No. 10 from finishing as No 39. in 2016. He has won three career titles and reached six career finals. He won a single title and was a finalist in another tournament in 2017.
He reached the semi-finals of the US Open and the quarter-finals of the French Open last year. He reached his first ATP 500 finals, first Masters 1000 semi-final, and also qualified for the ATP Finals for the first time last year as well.
Carreno Busta is a strong clay court player and is comfortable on hard courts as well. He will be looking to build on his 2017 performances.